Tech was supposed to take everyone's job. We're still working. What happened?

 Over the years, there have been concerns that new technologies would lead to the loss of jobs. For example, it was feared that ATMs would replace bank tellers, and robots would render humans redundant in manufacturing. However, as we look at the current situation in 2023, we can see that unemployment in the US is low, at 3.8%, and there are approximately 9.6 million job openings. This raises the question: What happened? Understanding what took place can provide valuable insights for the future.

One important lesson to learn is that technology tends to create more jobs than it eliminates. Contrary to predictions of significant job losses, previous periods of technological innovation have actually resulted in increased employment. This is due to various factors such as improved productivity, lower prices, and the emergence of entirely new products and services.

Technology can increase the demand for specific roles by reducing costs and creating new opportunities. For instance, when ATMs were introduced, there were concerns that bank tellers would be displaced. While the number of bank tellers per branch did decrease, the reduced cost of operating a branch led banks to open more branches. As a result, there was a continued increase in demand for bank tellers.

In another scenario, while technology may reduce the need for certain professionals, it can also create new roles in related fields. For example, the advent of spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel reduced the need for bookkeepers but significantly increased the demand for financial managers and accountants. The overall outcome was the creation of many more jobs that were lost.

Despite the positive impact of technology on job creation, there are instances where certain workers may find themselves worse off due to disruption in their industries. For example, the introduction of mechanical switching in telephone networks made telephone operators redundant. This led to these workers transitioning to other occupations, but they may have faced lower wages in the new roles.

Furthermore, increased competition resulting from the implementation of new technology can negatively affect workers. An example is the introduction of Uber to London, which allowed anyone with a driver's license and a cellphone to compete for business. This led to a decline in earnings for incumbent taxi drivers.

The key takeaway from these observations is that the way a new technology is implemented plays a crucial role. While technology overall creates new jobs and industries, there is no guarantee that impacted workers will seamlessly transition into these new roles. Additionally, there may be income inequalities and downward pressure on wages due to increased competition.

The fear that AI will exacerbate income inequality highlights the importance of equitable implementation, equal participation in its benefits, and support for disrupted workers. AI is already a topic of concern in union negotiations in Hollywood, and it is predicted that the rise of generative AI will create a need for reskilling.

In conclusion, the impact of technology on jobs is complex. While it generally creates more jobs and industries, the effects can vary across different professions and individuals. Ensuring a fair and inclusive implementation of technology and providing support for displaced workers is crucial for mitigating any potential negative consequences and ensuring a prosperous future.  

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